The keys to managing the business curve of COVID-19

Mar 27, 2020
4 MIN. READ

To manage the business curve of COVID-19, start by understanding the three phases of this crisis: Panic and Disruption, Fear and Isolation, and Recovery and the New Normal.

Today we are publishing our first thoughts on how organizations should respond—and are responding—to the COVID-19 crisis. This is a rapidly evolving topic, and this is certain to be the first of a number of pieces of content our thought leaders and teams make available to marketers, communications practitioners, digital experts, and organizational leaders as we seek to be a helpful voice during this time of massive disruption. As we all scramble through the panic and upending of essentially every daily experience we have, I’ve spent time with clients across industry sectors and a few things have become clear to me. First among them is the need to organize and establish a way of thinking about where we are and what’s to come.

Key takeaways:

  1. There are three phases of this crisis that must be managed: Panic and Disruption, Fear and Isolation, and Recovery and the New Normal.
  2. The key to managing the Panic and Disruption Phase is stable decision-making.
  3. The Fear and Isolation Phase will require a stronger delineation of customer and colleague audiences as the effects of their shared experiences as people will take distinct and divergent tolls. With that said, everyone is experiencing this as people, and phase two requires that we treat them as such.
  4. The Recovery and the New Normal Phase will be a revolution, with only a few predictable scenarios.

We’re currently in the Panic Phase

Everything is upside down. But, by and large, teams are coming together and managing through the chaos. People-centric cultures are faring better than production-based ones, but humanity is ultimately coming through in all instances I’ve seen. With that said, this is just the beginning and there is more work to be done. Many folks are experiencing an overwhelming workload. There are unavoidable technology challenges. There are immovable personal burdens and barriers. And separation and isolation will take an emotional toll. In addition, the revenue impacts organizations are experiencing will lead to this increased workload being shouldered by smaller workforces, in some cases.

It will get worse and panic will turn to fear

This probably goes without saying, but with California suggesting in recent days that as many as 25 million people could end up infected with COVID-19 and nearly 20,000 people needing hospitalization for treatment, things will get worse before they get better. Times are tough when the overwhelming majority of the population is healthy. They will rapidly become untenable when many folks aren’t. Many of us will lose loved ones. The emotional toll of separation will be exacerbated by one of loss. 

Things will normalize but be totally different

Eventually, the health crisis will end, and the economy will begin to move again. Life will return to some form of “normal.” But that normal is likely to be very different from our life and world before COVID-19. Will employees return to physical offices? Will they be willing to do so? Will pre-virus company cultures survive? How will we get customers back into traditional buying cycles? How will we help everyone manage the personal cost and attempt to reestablish a sense of normalcy and routine? What will recovery even look like? These are questions every organization will have to address.

We need to manage the curve but not make work

First, we need to keep it simple. We’ve all received several emails from every company that has our email address. The noise is real. In the Panic and Disruption Phase, we’re suggesting a high bar for the question of whether to act. In that, we have observed that chaos, unpredictability, and instability in decision-making has made for slower, less valuable, and often unpredictable decisions across industries. There is an ongoing tension between the best practice of transparency and speed for communicating in a crisis with the chaos that ensues when that crisis is universally experienced. Embracing a standard decision framework, one that works for your culture, is critical.

As we move into the Fear and Isolation Phase, employee and customer needs will diverge. Culture will become the key for employees. As they experience heretofore unseen disruption in their lives, we will keep them connected with the company and their peers. For customers, the fear will lead to a hunker-down mentality and a full break in their place within existing customer journeys (and all the experiences we’ve built around those journeys).

As we get further along, we’ll let data drive what we expect to see in the Recovery and the New Normal Phase, but a few things are likely guaranteed. There will be a question around the need to return to physical offices for many employees. There will be a technology and information security assessment as the distribution of people will have almost certainly led to a laxing of controls. And there will be a fundamental change in consumer behavior, the likes of which one rarely sees in their lifetime. How we respond now and what we do throughout phases one and two will dramatically impact what we’re permitted to do by our customers and colleagues afterward.

With a model in place, we can now organize and thoughtfully plan to navigate this world-changing health crisis.

ICF’s global marketing services agency focuses on helping your organization find opportunity in disruption.
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